I wasn’t expecting it to last, though. My previous noisy start-up experience was with Computec Media UK which, much like Shiny, started off making all the right sexual sounds about throwing its money around, hiring all the best people regardless of salary demands and changing various industry landscapes.
Then budgets got cut, staff disappeared, desks were left empty, offices and products were strategically downsized and it all turned sour. Shiny was obviously going to go the same way. I joked about getting sacked after two years when the money ran out. Then it happened.
So on my first day at Shiny, when they plonked me on a desk with three ladies who wrote about feminism and lovely dresses, I couldn’t help looking around, wondering how on earth a few very poorly-read blogs covered in Adsense banners were going to fund a swish office space in Covent Garden (Shiny was then based in the same building Bell Pottinger occupied during Dreamcast PR years, although no rare Dreamcast memorabilia had been left behind).
Shiny had bought UK:Resistance and Idiot Toys off me and was now paying me to update them – great! But I knew what both sites were making in ad revenue. Which was virtually nothing, a tiny percentage of my actual salary. As I looked around, I wondered if anyone else was doing the sums in their heads and working out how long it would be until the company exploded?
Never once did Shiny sell a ‘proper’ advert on UK:Resistance during the year it owned it, while Shiny’s other games sites – an Xbox, Wii and Sony platform blog, coupled with ancient and neglected aggregator ‘Games Digest’, were almost invisible.
Xbox blog ‘Xboxer.tv’ was managing around 50 readers a day when I joined Shiny. When I stopped updating it in February of 2009 it was getting a couple of thousand a day, but in all my 18 months actively writing it I never once saw an advert that wasn’t from Google’s Adsense or an alternative CPC clearing house. I presume Shiny suffered the same problem all independent web publishers have – how do you get advertising?
I mean, who do you phone? Who do you ask? I know all the buzzwords – CPM, CPC, creative, calling your pages ‘inventory’ instead of ‘pages’ and so on – but how exactly do I go about competing with Eurogamer for the big money Microsoft takeovers? No idea. And I’m sure whoever was in charge of selling ads at Shiny was in a similar position. In fact, the games world was such a disaster Shiny eventually gave up trying to sell gaming ads altogether, concentrating instead on its fashion and tech sites.
After Shiny bought UK:Resistance and added it to their portfolio and in-house staistics emails, it scraped into the top 10 most-visited Shiny Media blogs on a few occasions. That was back when the company had well over 30 separate sites on the go – but what does it say if Shiny’s ninth most popular blog was only making about $15 a month in ad revenue?
This lack of bespoke advertising was clearly Shiny’s number one problem. Whenever a proper deal was signed – I remember Vodafone running a month-long, five-figure campaign across the tech sites in early 2008 – a ripple of excitement went around the office, much like the scene in Ghostbusters where the gang gets their first genuine call out.
It hardly ever happened, though.
The death of Shiny makes me sad rather than angry. Sad that it had the opportunity to dominate the UK online scene, but failed due to some simple, glaring errors, like the possible lack of a plan to monetise its sites with anything other than mainstream pay-per-click ad options.
I still believe that if Shiny had hired a decent web designer for a couple of days and rebranded all the sites with a slick, modern, cool template, the picture could’ve been different. I’ve always though there’s a large slice of personal vanity in our choice of the sites and blogs we read – I want people to see me looking at cool sites that appear stylish and interesting.
The future for me and UK:Resistance, post-UK-blog-apocalypse? I’ll probably carry on updating it for free, for ever, for something to do and the extremely rare offer of properly paid freelance it raises. I am getting 15p a word for this, right? OK, 10p a word, and I’ll throw in the last two sentences for free? 5p a word and a plug for UKR at the end?
[Here you go, Gary – Read UK:R. It’s great.]